Top Ten Race Names in U.S. Horse Racing

Feb 10th 2012 08:00 am | Tags:

I had a chance to make a trip to New York last Saturday for a little February stakes action at the Big A. One of the races on the card, The Toboggan, happens to be one of my favorite race names. It’s origin is unique and the fact that it has survived for over a century without a change is remarkable. This had me thinking of other race names that I like — so I put together a list, limiting myself to an arbitrary top ten. Of course, like all things here at Colin’s Ghost, it comes with a regional bias.

Here are my top ten favorite race names in United States thoroughbred racing in no particular order:

The Toboggan : A sprint that has been on the New York stakes schedule for over a century, it’s name is rooted in a topographical detail at the race’s original home, Morris Park in New York. The straightaway sprint course at Morris had a slight downgrade that came to be known as the “tobbogan slide,” which was the name of the race from its first running in 1890 to 1896. The race has moved from Belmont to Aqueduct and Morris Park is long gone, but the unique name remains. Read more about the race in a post at Brooklyn Backstretch from 2011

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic : The Joe Hirsch is named for the legendary Daily Racing Form writer whose enthusiasm for racing makes him a well deserved member, and one of the few writers, in the racing name club. At one time, the great race writer Joe Palmer, had a race named in his honor run in New York but that is long gone. In the year when Joe Palmer will be honored with induction into the Racing Hall of Fame Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor, it would be great to see a race with his name rightfully return to the New York stakes schedule. I nominate the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga as the race that should be rechristened the Joe Palmer.

United Nations Stakes : Run for the first time at Atlantic City Race Course in 1953, its name is rooted in the founders’ hope that the race would attract an international field to compete over the New Jersey turf. The long gone D.C. International at Laurel Park — started in 1952 — has a name rooted in a similar goal. The UN reminds us of the time in American racing when it was unique to see overseas horses compete in this country. Read more about the early years of the UN

Eddie Logan Stakes : What other sport would honor a man who made a living shining shoes? Only in racing can characters such as Eddie Logan make themselves memorable while working out of the racetrack’s typical spotlight. It would be great to see more of racing’s track characters honored as Eddie Logan is at Santa Anita Park. See an image of Eddie Logan plying his trade from Mary Forney’s blog

The Jim Dandy : The only race named for a horse whose biggest career victory came at odds of 100-1. Jim Dandy had his greatest day in 1930 against the supposedly unbeatable Gallant Fox. The great upsetter’s name is kept alive with a stake that has been on the Saratoga race schedule since the 1960s. Read more about Jim Dandy in a post from last year

Endine and Obeah Stakes : I’m counting this as one because the naming of these two races have similar “bloodlines.” Both races are run at Delaware Park, and while the names might be obscure for race fans, Endine and Obeah both won the the Delaware Handicap twice, one of the most historic and important races for fillies and mares in the country. They also had local connections, trained by Hall of Famer Henry Clark and owned by the Delaware-based Christiana Stables.

Alabama Stakes : Perhaps the most interesting story behind the naming of a race, it was to be named for William Cottrell in 1872. However, Cottrell declined the honor and instead asked that the race honor his home state. Read the story of the Alabama in more detail in this article from Ron Hale

The General George Handicap : A race run on President’s day at Laurel Park, not far from Washington DC, is named for General George Washington. It’s the only race I’m aware of named for a founding father. A nerdy favorite but a unique name that has been on the race schedule in Maryland since 1973

Citation Handicap : Named for one of racing’s greats, it seems an obvious choice, but it’s the location of this one that it makes it one of my favorites. Most know of Citation’s two and three year old seasons where he dominated the turf but less remember his later years in California, where the effects of an injury that cost him his four-year-old season kept him below the standard he set early in his career. In 1950 and 1951 he won five of sixteen starts, after winning twenty-seven of twenty-nine in his first two seasons. But, in what became the final race of his career, after two years without a win of significance, he won the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup. Hollywood Park is where Citation flashed his brilliance one last time before a long deserved retirement making it the perfect place to honor one of racing’s all-time greats. Read more about Citation in articles from the Colin’s Ghost Archives

Pan Zareta Stakes : Named for the famed female sprinter who, from 1912 to 1917, won an incredible seventy-six races from one hundred and fifty-one stars. The Pan Zareta Stakes is run at the Fair Grounds, where she died in 1917 and is buried in the track’s infield. A mare who deserves to be remembered, fittingly honored at the historic track in New Orleans.

Putting together this list made me think about how much I love this tradition. In naming stakes races after the famous names of the past, no other sport honors its history like racing. Something to be said for that, especially considering how the major sports in this country name their arenas for banks and tear down places like Yankee Stadium and the Boston Garden. In the sport of kings, race names are sacred and frequently remind us of the rich history of the sport.


This Saturday at Gulfstream Park will be a big day…Ruler on Ice and Shackleford, two of last year’s 3-year-old classic winners, will face off in the Grade I Donn Handicap. You can read more about the race’s namesake and the its host site in a post I did a few years back: Gulfstream Park Opens, 1944

Learn more about the Donn in a “Ten Things You Should Know” from Hello Race Fans

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for the Derby Prep Alerts over at Hello Race Fans. It’s are a great way to keep up with all of the big races leading to the First Saturday in May. Click here to reach the sign up page

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in thoroughbred racing history

9 Responses to “Top Ten Race Names in U.S. Horse Racing”

  1. Bill Daly says:

    Interesting. Thinking about Citation I may be off-base, but I don’t think he cared for off tracks. He suffered his only defeat as a 3yr old at Havre de Grace [the late, lamented {?}racetrack, not the mare] to Saggy [the sire of Carry Back] on a very muddy racetrack. At Tanforan {where he was injured} he raced on an off track and didn’t handle it too well according to accounts from Ben and Jimmy Jones. They were sorry they ran the horse on that track since it reportedly was in such poor condition, from what I’ve read. I’m not sure how he fared on other off tracks though since I don’t have his past performances.

  2. Bill Daly says:

    Having second thoughts about my previous blog; not enough evidence to definitively say Citation didn’t care for off tracks. The injury to his ankle suffered during the race was probably a result of the underlying hardness and uneven nature of the track. It was alleged by the trainer that there were many holes in the track and it was like concrete. Also, Citation did win several races on off tracks. It still is worth noting however that the only race he lost in 1948 was on a muddy track.

  3. RG says:

    One of my favorite races was the San Juan Capistrano. It changed a lot over the years but the 1950 running with Noor carrying 117 pounds beating Citation carrying 130 by a nose. Head and head for the entire 1 3/4 miles.

  4. Some American says:

    My favorite race name in North America (admittedly you said “U.S.”) is “The Brighouse Belles” at Hastings!

    “The John Longden 6000” was a great name there too, until those idiots modified it ever so slightly to lose the bulk of its appeal.

    Difficult topic to have all of my answers at the ready for…

  5. Waquoit says:

    I always liked the Pimlico Special. The name made the race seem, well, special. It wouldn’t have seemed as cool if it was called the Pimlico Handicap or the Pimlico Stakes.

  6. Allan Carter says:

    One of my favorites is the Cliff Hanger from the Meadowlands. It was named for the old Perils of Pauline movies, and others like them, that were filmed at the turn of the century at a studio near the track.

  7. White Camry says:

    Second the Curlin => Joe Palmer rename!

  8. Nob Hill says:

    They had one running of “The Yakima Air Fare Stakes” back in the mid-1970’s.

    (I’m sure that was a humdinger)

  9. Don Reed says:

    Wonderful (especially Eddie Logan). Thank you.